Stanisław Dygat- “Journey” (1958)

Summary

The story begins in an Eastern European capital, in the home of a middle-class family. The oldest son, H.–let’s call him H–had long since ceased to believe that the family would actually go on a vacation to another country, but he was still grateful to his father for at least promising to take them somewhere, for letting them all dream. But he also relishes the inevitable moment of revelation, when it turns out that, yet again, the vacation must be postponed: this disappointment, far from depressing him, served to vindicate his cynical outlook on life.

Now, time for this family is divided into years named after countries they would never visit: thus, the year of Scotland (when H was 14) was followed by the year of Portugal, and Portugal by the Year of Capri.The story takes place in the Year of Capri.

One evening, the father returns home from work, in a terrible mood, complaining about everything. After dinner, he announces, to no one’s surprise, that due to some unforeseen financial complications the family vacation to Capri must be postponed ‘til next year. H. then declares that the rest of them can stay,  but he is going somewhere, he has sold his motorcycle and he is going to travel. He does not have enough for  Capri but he does enough to rent a cabin by the river together with two of his friends: let us call them J and G.

All summer, H, J and G talk and read and laugh and swim and have a jolly time, and every afternoon, when they go into town to buy groceries, they stop and talk to the shopkeeper’s daughter, Miss Z, who has dark brown hair and bright blue eyes and whom H. finds extraordinarily pretty.

J and G say charming, funny, intelligent things to Miss Z., they make her laugh, and H. can only watch jealously as they seduce the love of his life before his eyes. He is convinced that she is in love with one of them, or of both of them, and he stands apart, and pretends to be indifferent. This situation of hidden internal turmoil and exterior indifference lasts until the end of the summer and the village dance that occurs the day before the boys all return home. H. does not want to go to the dance because he imagines how pretty Miss Z. will look, then he imagines how she is in love with one or both of his friends, so he feigns disinterest, and only after a long series of doubts and vacillations that constitute a considerable part of the story does he finally decide to go.

So finally H accompanies J and G to the dance. On the way they run into the butcher’s daughters, identical twins dressed in matching dresses. The girls accompany J and G, leaving H again the odd man out. H. thinks about how easy it is for J and G to talk to girls. Then he catches sight of Miss Z., sad and alone next to a table full of food. He is struck by her beauty, and he decides at that moment that he will go over to her, assuage her sorrow, declare his undying love, or at the very least ask her to dance. But then he realizes that she is sad because his two friends G and J are dancing with the twins in the matching dresses, and since he is certain that she is in love with one of them, or perhaps both of them, H is overcome with rage, and rushes off in a huff. The next day he returns to the city. He sends Miss Z. a brief note, after much vacillation, expressing his desire to dance with her next year. He then receives a letter from her in which she declares herself in love with him,. Upon reading this letter, H. is filled with revulsion and finds the idea of Miss Z horrible, and the story ends with him yet again overcome with a feeling of asphyxiation and a desire to escape.

 

Excerpt

Soundtrack: “The Last Hug,” Polish waltz played by Eero Richmond on the accordeon

Except for those people who possess an iron and inflexible will, we all find ourselves, from time to time, torn between two equal and opposing forces. This sort of dilemma happens to everyone, since fortunately there are very few people blessed with iron and inflexible wills. Such inhumane bureaucrats of the conscience only vex and annoy their fellows, motivated by morbid ambition and bestial greed, hiding their petty personal aspirations under a mantel of noble and elevated discourse. At times, thanks to a confluence of luck and happenstance, these inflexible iron-willed people become powerful people, and then, with iron and inflexible coherence, they bring down catastrophes upon a more or less substantial segment of the population.

The rest of us, however, will find ourselves at least once in our lives stuck between a yes and a no (or between a no and a yes), in the midst of an internal struggle whose intensity varies according to each individual’s personality. Considering the matter in a more general way, the phenomenon manifests itself as follows: at a certain moment we make a firm decision, we declare it with conviction and we try to persuade ourselves that we have just made an irrevocable decision. And so there we are, resolved and very certain, both internally and externally, that we are not going to pay any attention to a certain species of imp, a most peculiar little creature, who resides in our head and exists to make fun of us: What’s gotten into you? says the imp. Why so many stories? Why do you flatter yourself, believing yourself firm in your convictions, when you know perfectly well that at the last minute you will end up doing exactly the opposite of what you have just decided you are going to do? There is no escape; the little imp knows everything, he is never wrong and with all our firmness and resolve we will never be able to silence his prophetic voice.

H, to tell the truth, did not want to go to the dance that night. He did not want to go because he was afraid he would remain in the corner as always, gazing at Miss Z, and  knowing all the while he could never possess her. H damned her and her enchantments. This made him feel better: he had already rejected her before she had a chance to reject him. He felt magnanimous in his defeat…and then the idea of the enchantment Miss Z exercised became even more mysterious, provocative, and the little imp smiled sarcastically and returned to pester him again.

 

 

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